Career Advice

Future-Proof Your Career: 4 Ways To Enhance Your People Skills

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(6 min read) The workplace is fundamentally changing, and with it, employees must find new ways to create value and become indispensable. Although the labor market in the developed world is strong, we must be prepared for external factors like fluctuating markets, trade disputes, and disruptive technologies that will impact global employment. There are steps we can take to upskill and reskill ourselves to help future-proof our employability.

A key finding from a recent MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab Study[1] that analyzed 170 million online job postings in the U.S. between 2010 and 2017 revealed that while new technology will change some tasks done by people, a large number of tasks requiring “people skills” are increasing in demand.

People skills like communication, creativity, strategy, and critical thinking help individuals be more dynamic, interconnected, and empathetic to others. Technology does not do this well, so the need for individuals with people skills will continue to rise.

Here are four actions you can take immediately to enhance your people skills.

1) Adopt a continuous learning mindset

The complex problems our businesses solve tend to stay consistent over time. It’s the way we solve these problems that changes. This requires high levels of learning agility to learn new things, show we have a desire and capability for continuous learning, and remain motivated to find new ways of solving problems.

We must also demonstrate the ability to look around the corner and proactively lean forward. Maintaining the skills to perform your job well isn’t enough anymore. Having a growth mindset through the application of new skills and modern ways of working, like agile and design thinking, in your day-to-day job can validate your high learning potential. Change for the sake of change only causes disruption; change that leads to more impactful outcomes will create value for the company and career growth for the worker.

Also, show your employer you have adaptability and a willingness to take on new challenges and tasks, deal with changing priorities and workloads, learn new skills, and keep calm and persistent in the face of difficulties.

2) Become an expert in your field

Next, examine macro trends in your domain and industry by having a genuine curiosity to look at problems or situations from a fresh perspective and suggest unorthodox solutions. Then, apply critical thinking to break down complexities quickly into manageable components to create new solutions. Remember, over time, the solutions you’ve perfected will eventually need to evolve as companies deal with future disruptive technologies and fluctuating economies.

Staying an expert in your field and continuously evolving solutions requires innovation and the application of creative ideas and rapid experimentation. This can be a relaunch of an existing idea at a different time that enhances value, or something new that adds previously unknown value. Show your employer you have initiative by trying to solve a new or existing problem in a different way, such as using design thinking to improve user experience in a product or service.?

3) Enhance your digital footprint

Your digital footprint is the story of your career journey, helping make you more discoverable. What does your digital footprint say about you? Take the time to sharpen your communications and presentation skills to organize and express yourself in a clear, concise, and inclusive tone, avoiding company jargon.

Also, sharpen your storytelling capability to deliver engaging messaging and visuals that connect with your audience and drive engagement to your profile. Don’t forget to share meaningful articles, write compelling content, and contribute to conversations by sharing best practices that can help build your eminence.?

4) Expand your network & mentor others

Mentorship matters. Mentoring and being mentored are both important.

Expanding your network and mentoring others requires excellent active listening and coaching skills to mindfully hear and apply thoughtful inquiry to drive clarity and alternatives in real-time. Try honing your skills in collaborative influence so you can build allies and inspire people to work together. You can build trust and authority by demonstrating accountability and reliability, actively listening to others, knowing when to lead or follow, and being perceptive and receptive to the needs of your peers.

Another takeaway from the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab Study[2] revealed that tasks requiring strong intellectual and emotional insight have increased in value. This is key to building your personal and professional networks, as well as being a mentor to others. Strong skills in emotional, cultural and social intelligence will help you better understand other people’s emotions and gain followership on a global scale. You can use this awareness to guide your thoughts and actions, while adjusting your style accordingly, to build relationships with peers and colleagues across the world and navigate global social environments.?

People skills are here to stay

With the shelf-life of technical skills continuing to shrink, you must continuously reinvent your skill-base to endure disruptions in technology and economies. People skills will become increasingly important, and companies like IBM have embraced this new reality by hiring and upskilling employees with these coveted skills I’ve referenced.

A recent study[3] by the IBM Institute for Business Value interviewed 2,100 CEOs from top organizations and revealed, “after being on the back burner for a few years, people skills have surpassed digital skills in importance, and are among the top three external forces CEOs expect to impact the business.”

My advice to you? Be a contributor now, strive to be an innovator tomorrow, and adopt an #AlwaysBeLearning mindset for life…your employer will know when you do!


About the Author

Obed D. Louissaint serves as IBM Vice President of Talent, Watson Health, and Employee Experience. In this role, Obed leads talent acquisition, global mobility, technical talent, people analytics, skills, performance management, workforce management, and employee experience. He is focused on curating a set of talent-based acquisition and development offerings to ensure IBM has the skills to win today and in the next era, as well as drive engagement of IBMers.

Obed has experience?in multiple HR and operational specialties, business units, and geographies, from developed to emerging markets, where he leads HR for?IBM Analytics, IBM Commerce, IBM Security, IBM Research, and IBM Watson, Watson Health and Watson IoT.

Obed is a graduate of Cornell University with a degree in Industrial Labor Relations, with a focus in Economics & Organizational Behavior.? He is a trustee of the Student Agencies Foundation, a member of the Management Advisory Council for the National Academy of Minority in Engineering, and a member of the INROADS alumni association.


[1] “The Future of Work: How New Technologies Are Transforming Tasks.” MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab Study. October 2019. Source

[2] “The Future of Work: How New Technologies Are Transforming Tasks.” MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab Study. October 2019. Source

[3] “Plotting the Platform Payoff: CEO Insights from the Global C-Suite Study.” IBM Institute for Business Value. May 2018. Source

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